“The waves of what we have done here are going to ripple throughout history for the rest of history. As long as there’s a United States of America, what we did right here, what you did in Shasta County, is going to be a tidal wave by the time it gets to Washington D.C., and it will get there.” —Carlos Zapata in the final episode of Red, White and Blueprint docuseries
It has been nearly two years since a video of local restauranteur/political provocateur Carlos Zapata’s combative speech against COVID-19 mandates at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors went viral on social media, touching off a small but vocal rebellion against taking any public health precautions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the county.
The nascent movement, featuring former Marine and jujitsu instructor Zapata as its strongman figurehead, caught the attention of Connecticut son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo, who had a run-in with Shasta County officials more than a decade ago after his winery and restaurant near Shingletown were cited for numerous code violations. Anselmo sold the $30 million property at a $20 million loss and moved back to Connecticut to lick his wounds and plot his revenge.
How do we know this? The erstwhile Marine, novelist, film producer and satellite fortune heir told us, in the Red, White and Blueprint docuseries co-founded by Zapata and Bethel Music producer Jeremy Edwardson. Anselmo, who has never returned A News Café’s many phone calls, also confessed his animus for Shasta County to the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
In 2020, rightwing libertarian Anselmo donated $110,000 to Tea Party conservative Patrick Jones’ successful bid for the Shasta County District 4 supervisor seat, according to campaign finance records. Last year, Anselmo donated $450,000 to the Shasta General Purpose Committee, a political action committee headed by Tea Party conservative Mark Kent that successfully recalled Shasta County District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty in February.
Moty was replaced by Christian nationalist neophyte Tim Garman in February, even though more people voted to keep Moty than replace him with Garman. Such is the undemocratic calculus of California’s recall statute.
After the recall, Kent transferred leftover funds from Shasta General Purpose Committee to a new PAC, Liberty Committee, to promote a slate of six rightwing extremists running in the June 7 primary election. Anselmo kicked in another $180,000, punching the total up to $609,100. Heading into the primary election, Liberty Committee had spent $568,620 on signage, mailers, and television, radio and internet ads, and had all the momentum. The last episode of RWB aired the week before the election, and Zapata seemed confident victory was at hand.
But as it turns out, Zapata’s movement isn’t going down in history just yet.
For the time being, it’s just going down.
Stunningly, all six rightwing candidates offered up by the Anselmo/Liberty Committee/RWB axis were soundly defeated by their more moderate opponents, according to final election results. Four rightwingers were defeated outright; the two races for supervisor are headed to runoff elections in November. The primary election will be officially certified by July 7, but the results aren’t likely to change significantly, and represent a stinging defeat for Shasta County’s burgeoning fascist movement.
Fascism isn’t too strong of a word for an undertaking that was sparked two years ago by Cottonwood militia member Zapata’s threat to turn his minions loose on the public if Shasta County didn’t stop following the state’s COVID-19 mandates. This gang of dead-end MAGA Trumpublicans, anti-science “medical freedom” advocates, gun-toting militia enthusiasts, State of Jefferson secessionists and white-Christian nationalists came to us literally wrapped in the flag brandishing the cross. It seeks to impose its own dystopic vision of America upon the rest of us.
The importance of this rightwing movement’s defeat at the polls—especially in the wake of the reactionary U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to an abortion last week—can’t be overstated. Say what you want about Shasta County’s absurdly low 45-percent voter turnout rate in the primary; when given a choice between moderate candidates capable of doing the job, and feckless fascistic firebrands seeking to burn it all down, a majority of voters chose the former.
The results were surprising, to say the least. As they say in motorsports, that’s why we have the races.
Competence Matters in County Clerk, Schools Superintendent and District Attorney Races
When the Anselmo/Liberty Committee/RWB axis targeted Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen, Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores and District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, it was borrowing a page from former Trump advisor Steven Bannon’s fascist playbook.
Their aim was to seize control of local government services such as the election system, public education and the criminal justice system and steer them hard right, into the ditch if necessary.
This isn’t hyperbole. After Supervisor Moty’s recall gave Shasta County Supervisors Patrick Jones and Les Baugh a three-vote majority on the board of supervisors with the addition of meat puppet Garman, they purposely set out to destroy the county’s public health system, forcing the resignation of Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewert and firing without cause Public Health Officer Karen Ramstrom.
Meanwhile, a pandemic that has so far killed more than 1 million Americans, including 656 Shasta County residents, continues to surge through the population in the form of the Omicron BA.5 variant. In Shasta County, virtually no one is masking up, keeping their social distance or taking any other precautions, even as infections rise. There will be more avoidable hospitalizations and deaths. Jones, Baugh and Garman have blood on their hands.
Since our rightwing extremists aren’t interested in maintaining a functioning society, the candidates they recruited to run against Darling Allen, Flores and Bridgett lacked the prerequisite skills and experience for their respective positions. Who needs talent when you can surf to the front of the line on a wave of male privilege?
The race for Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters serves as a prime example. Darling Allen, who has held the office for 17 years, has worked tirelessly to keep the system functioning smoothly and expand voting access to all eligible citizens, earning respect from her peers and the public alike.
On the other hand, her opponent Robert Holsinger, a retired utility administrator, volunteers for Election Integrity Project California, a rightwing organization whose raison d’etre is to limit the number of people who vote, especially Latinos. Holsinger also endorses former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie that he was cheated out of the 2020 election.
Considering how much Trump’s Big Lie continues to hold sway over Republicans at the local, state and national levels, the political winds appeared to be in Holsinger’s favor as Election Day approached. After all, two-thirds of Shasta County’s electorate voted for Trump; twice.
Nevertheless, Darling Allen defeated Holsinger by a 38-point margin, 69 percent to 31 percent.
What the heck happened?
“I am extremely heartened by the election results,” Darling Allen told ANC via email. “The voters are telling us what they want, and who they want to govern: in my mind, that message also tells us experience and character matter to the voters here. I am humbled and grateful to be a part of this community. I appreciate that while there is a group of folks who are loud and take up a lot of space in any given room, they do not necessarily speak for every resident of Shasta County.”
Darling Allen’s remarks about taking up room space was a reference to Zapata and other members of the RWB movement who converged upon her department on election night, obstructing and intimidating workers with their presence. Darling Allen went out of her way to tolerate their aggressive behavior.
Liberty Committee, thanks to Anselmo’s largess, outraised the political action committee supporting the moderate slate of candidates, Shasta Vote, by more than two-to-one, $609,100 to $269,152. Shasta Vote’s total included $150,000 from Sierra Pacific.
But interestingly, individually, all of the more moderate candidates outraised their rightwing opponents.
Darling Allen raised $26,728 for her campaign, including $4900 from Redding Rancheria, $900 from local donor Judy Salter and $500 from Sierra Pacific. She spent $20,786. Final campaign statements won’t be issued for several weeks.
Holsinger raised $16,277—$10,000 less than Darling Allen—including maximum $4900 donations from Shasta General Purpose Committee and Liberty Committee. He spent all of it on a losing cause.
Likewise, Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores raised $72,665, nearly double the $38,989 collected by her opponent Bryan Caples. Flores spent $60,000 on her campaign compared to $35,000 spent by Caples. Flores received a $4900 donation from Sierra Pacific; Liberty Committee donated $3500 to Caples and featured him in its slate of six rightwing candidates.
As A News Café first reported in February, Caples was dismissed from three school superintendent positions during the past decade, making him an unlikely candidate to oversee the Shasta County Office of Education’s 25 school districts. Caples openly campaigned as a white Christian nationalist, calling for the return of prayer to public schools and the removal of courses teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT isn’t taught in Shasta County K-12 schools).
Inexplicably, the Shasta County Republican Party endorsed the exceedingly mediocre Caples in the nonpartisan race, supposedly because the vastly more experienced and respected Flores isn’t a registered Republican. Nevertheless, Flores handily defeated Caples in the primary by a 14-point margin, 57 percent to 43 percent. She credits the victory to the hundreds of people who volunteered for her campaign.
“It was absolutely amazing to have so many people willing to help out with this campaign and I truly believe that’s what made the difference,” Flores told ANC via email. “We had close to 1500 people involved directly in some aspect of the campaign. … I can’t tell you how many people shared that they had never put a lawn sign up or got involved in local politics before this race but saw the need and were willing to help. I am extremely grateful for all the support, the encouragement, and the willingness of so many to get involved and truly make a difference.”
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett raised $83,641 for her campaign, including $2500 from Lee Salter and $1000 donations from Erin Resner and Sierra Pacific’s George Emmerson.
Her opponent Erik Jensen raised $74,114, including $4900 donations from both Shasta General Purpose Committee and Liberty Committee. Bridgett has two decades’ experience as a criminal prosecutor; Jensen has never tried a criminal case. According to a social media post, Jensen’s religious supporters laid hands on him and bathed his feet during the runup to the election, but it was to no avail. Bridgett defeated her inexperienced rival by a 12-point margin, 56 percent to 44 percent.
God works in mysterious ways.
Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson Keeps His Seat, But He’s No Moderate
Like his five cohorts on the more moderate slate, Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson bested his opponent, former sheriff deputy John Greene, in fundraising and at the polls. Johnson raised $90,744 and spent $82,650, according to campaign finance records. Greene, who received $4900 from Liberty Committee, raised $17,049 in total, barely one-fifth of Johnson’s haul, and spent most of it. Johnson defeated Greene at the polls by a hefty 24-point margin, 62 percent to 38 percent.
While it’s fair to say Johnson, an avid supporter of the wagon wheel of justice concept for the proposed new multi-million-dollar jail/rehabilitation facility, is more moderate than Greene, it would be a mistake to say Johnson is a moderate. This was made abundantly clear during Johnson’s debate with Greene in early May, when both candidates gushed over Richard Mack, the rightwing grifter who heads the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
Wingnut Mack preaches that sheriffs are the ultimate authority in the county and can choose to enforce (or not enforce) any state or federal law they deem unconstitutional. This completely false doctrine is derived from the cop-killing anti-government Sovereign Citizens movement. Mack gets paid, sometimes with taxpayer dollars, to spread this manure from county to county across the United States. So, it was more than a bit disturbing to learn Sheriff Johnson had recently attended one of Mack’s “trainings,” which he described as a “real eye-opener.”
“I gained a lot of respect and knowledge in that process of finding out what the responsibilities are of a constitutional sheriff,” Johnson said.
What does Johnson believe his responsibilities entail? Presently, despite the Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal in California. Suppose Johnson, as a self-proclaimed constitutional sheriff, decides abortion is unlawful in Shasta County. Will he be posting deputies inside Planned Parenthood?
Such questions might have seemed silly until last week. Now, thanks to a reactionary Supreme Court packed with rightwing Trump appointees, abortion rights are endangered and open carry is on the verge of becoming the law of the land, even in California.
That makes voter turnout in the November runoff elections for the District 1 and District 5 supervisor seats even more vital.
Can More Moderate Supervisor Candidates Win in November?
Shasta County voters have already seen how much carnage a Jones-led 3-vote majority on the board of supervisors can wreak. In addition to hobbling Health and Human Services, Jones and Baugh managed to chase off County CEO Matt Pontes, who was originally hired two years ago to duplicate the wagon of wheel justice concept he helped create in Santa Barbara.
The wagon wheel concept consists of a central hub jail surrounded by rehabilitation services. Jones and Baugh’s scheme to use the bulk of the $37 million Shasta County received from the American Recovery Plan Act on a new jail depends upon those rehabilitation services being part of the plan. What happens now that the architect, Pontes, has left the county and taken a position with Sierra Pacific?
Will Shasta County once again blow an opportunity to upgrade its criminal justice system for the 21st century? It seems entirely possible with the present lineup of supervisors.
In many ways, the races to replace departing District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti and District 5 and outgoing Supervisor Les Baugh resemble the contests for county clerk, superintendent of schools and district attorney.
In District 1, the more moderate candidate, Dutch Bros franchise co-owner and current Redding City Councilwoman Erin Resner, has a long history of public service that’s typically expected from those who choose to participate in local politics. Her opponent, Ninja Coalition gym owner and sports agent Kevin Crye, has scant history of public service and is running solely on his pledge to never ever mandate any precautions against COVID-19.
Crye moved to an apartment in District 1 to meet the residency requirement to run for office; the family home remains in District 4.
Crye and his fellow rightwing candidates have attempted to counter their relative lack of experience by claiming their opponents are “establishment” candidates. Crye & Co. supposedly represent an “anti-establishment” grassroots vanguard that will somehow make Shasta County great again. It’s true that local opposition to COVID-19 mandates by medical freedom advocates energized the movement, but it’s hard to call your organization grassroots or anti-establishment when it’s funded by a son-of-a-billionaire from Connecticut seeking vengeance.
At any rate, “anti-establishment” is synonymous with “I have no experience,” at least in these local races, and voters appeared to have figured that out. Resner beat Crye by a 5-point margin, 48 percent to 43 percent. Kymberly Vollmers, who withdrew from the race, but not in time to remove her name from the ballot, received 9 percent of the vote. If Vollmers had withdrawn in time, Resner almost undoubtedly would have received her votes and exceeded 50 percent, avoiding a runoff against Crye in November.
Like the other moderate slate candidates, Resner raised more funds than her opponent. Her campaign raised $116,121 and spent $81,075. Crye raised $73,967, but spent just $21,481, so he’s sitting on a larger surplus with the November election still months away. Both candidates benefitted from multiple maximum $4900 donations from businesspeople outside of the county.
In District 5, the moderate slate candidate, two-term Anderson City Councilman Baron Browning, bested the less-experienced Liberty Committee candidate Chris Kelstrom by 8 points, 44 percent to 36 percent. The five-person contest saw Colt Roberts take 11 percent of the vote, with 4 percent going to both Frank Lobue and Alex Madrigal. How Roberts, Lobue and Madrigal’s votes will be dispersed when Browning and Kelstrom face off in November is anyone’s guess.
Browning raised more money than Kelstrom, collecting $71,405, including $4900 from Redding Rancheria and an unsolicited $4900 donation from Anselmo, even though Browning wasn’t on the Anselmo/Liberty Committee/RWB slate. Browning spent $62,387 on signage, mailers, and radio, television and internet advertising.
Kelstrom raised $55,958, a large chunk of it from fundraisers where individual donations are under $100 and don’t have to be reported by name. Like Crye, he spent less than his opponent, just $25,264, and is sitting on a larger surplus of cash as the November election beckons.
The outcome of the fall election will determine the future makeup of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, but predicting that outcome and what it might mean for future board votes is a bit of a crap shoot.
In District 1, Resner is obviously the more experienced candidate. In addition to being on the Redding City Council for the past three years, she’s spent seven years volunteering for Court Appointed Special Advocates, representing abused and neglected foster children. She’s sat on the Community Services Advisory Commission for five years. She’s the president of the Sacramento Valley division of the League of California Cities.
Crye claims he’s a budget hawk who will manage the county’s funds through “the veil and colander of fiscal responsibility.” In real life he filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
If elected to the board, it’s supposed Resner will vote along similar lines as Chimenti. Resner attends The Stirring, a local church with close ties to Bethel, and some of her critics have suggested, without offering any real evidence, that she has issues separating church and state. A News Café asked Resner how she separates her personal religious beliefs from governmental decision-making on issues such as whether Shasta County should officially declare June Pride month in recognition of the LGBTQ community.
“On principle and as a human being, I believe everyone should feel welcome and valued whether I personally agree with their life choices or not,” Resner said. “It’s not my job to judge and it’s absolutely not my job to push my beliefs on others. While I am grateful for my faith, I will continue to make sound policy decisions for the community based on facts. Sexual orientation should play no factor in a person’s worth or value.”
As ANC recently reported, last week the board of supervisors once again failed to recognize the LGBTQ community by officially declaring June Pride month. The typically omnipresent Baugh didn’t attend the meeting and the vote deadlocked 2-2, with supervisors Chimenti and Mary Rickert voting for the resolution and supervisors Jones and Garman opposing it. With a tie, the vote failed.
This isn’t to say LGBTQ acceptance should be the only litmus test for a county supervisor, but such acceptance does serve as a useful barometer for gauging where any given candidate stands on myriad social issues that have suddenly been called into question by the Supreme Court’s momentous decision last week.
Abortion is about to become illegal in half the states, and in his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas openly stated the court should go after LGBTQ rights next.
If both the moderate slate candidates for supervisor — Erin Resner and Baron Browning — are elected, does that mean the Pride Month resolution will pass with a 3-2 majority next year? That’s hard to say; ANC hasn’t yet popped the question to Browning, and as courageous as Resner’s answer was, she stopped short of saying she’d vote for such a resolution.
However, it’s an absolute certainty that Chris Kelstrom — if the former grocery store manager turned State of Jefferson pitchman is elected in November — will vote against the LGBTQ community in tandem with his schoolboy chum Jones. There’s little doubt that he’ll join Jones and Garman in the ongoing dismantlement of Shasta County government. Need more evidence? Shasta County is heavily dependent on funding from Sacramento. Kelstrom wants to secede from the state, cutting off such funding.
Browning, thankfully, does not support secession. Like all the more moderate slate candidates, he’s vastly more experienced than his opponent. Though he’s more moderate than Kelstrom, he’s still a conservative. A successful businessman and two-time city councilman, Browning is following the same path traveled by Baugh to the 5th district’s supervisor seat and is clearly the best man running for the job.
Whether Browning wins in November depends upon whether the results of the primary election are signs of a trend, or just an anomaly. Shasta County’s rejection of the heavily funded rightwing movement attempting to take over the county is one of biggest (so far) untold stories of the primary election. National media organizations were poised to run frontpage stories should Zapata & Co. succeed in their mission. It’s been crickets since the election.
An impromptu survey of moderate slate voters by ANC found that some of them do think the primary election results are signs of a trend moving in the right direction. Not all Republicans remain Trump supporters; some are exhausted by Trumpism, though loathe to admit it for fear of being shunned by their own party.
Some voters believe the silent majority that’s been appalled by the attempted rightwing takeover of Shasta County, including two years of vicious, bizarre behavior by the movement’s members at board of supervisors meetings, has finally spoken.
“You’re either an anti-fascist or you’re a fascist sympathizer,” one voter said.
“We’ve got to stop name-calling,” said another. “This won’t happen unless we pull together.”
Many of the voters surveyed warned against complacency and over-celebrating victory in the primary election.
“The nightmare is nearly over,” one said. “Time to double our efforts until November.”
ANC reached out to Liberty Committee candidates Robert Holsinger, Bryan Caples and Erik Jensen and asked if they planned to concede their elections and congratulate their opponents on their victories.
They haven’t replied.